Theatrical Review: Riddick
After being betrayed by the Necromongers, Richard Riddick has been left for dead on a desolate, sun-scorched world surrounded by various alien predators. Riddick looks at this as an opportunity to rebuild himself and soon manages to conquer his surroundings. After exploring the world further, he discovers an outpost that’s exclusively for use for bounty hunters and once he’s found that, he knows that his days for staying on this world are now numbered, being one of the most sought after criminals across space. Riddick devises a plan to get himself off world, and with the arrival of two different sets of mercenaries, his plan is about to take shape. But a literal storm is coming and with it a menace that no one will be able to stop.
That’s the broad premise to Riddick the latest film from writer/director and Riddick creator David Twohy and star Vin Diesel who plays the titular role. I’m a huge fan of their first movie, Pitch Black and while I thought there were some interesting aspects to it’s sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, for the most part, I thought it was an unsatisfying experience. Riddick takes a very “back to basics” approach with it’s main character and the series itself, and at least to me, this is a very entertaining pulpy science fiction film.
The story is very episodic in nature, broken down into three acts with their own points, yet still with a nice flow. The first act is a pure tale of survival in a hostile environment and in some ways reminds of the classic science fiction movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars. The second act introduces the two sets of mercenaries and has a terrific Western feel to it (as well as little parts of it that reminded me of the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet). The final act puts everything together and certainly harkens back to Pitch Black in a lot of ways, but also, at least to me adding some growth to the Riddick character. Even though this is a “back to basics” approach, it’s still a true sequel to the prior two movies as events from both are very much referred to, especially with one character from the first film. Basically, while I think that if you haven’t seen the first two movies, you still might enjoy this, you’ll enjoy it even more if you’ve seen both Pitch Black and Chronicles.
Two points that I really liked that I’ve seen others criticize are with the pacing of the film and it’s visual effects. Riddick does have a leisurely drawn-out pace that I think works for it’s episodic nature and is particularly effective in the first third of the movie. I think the look of the movie and it’s visual effects are absolutely fantastic. This has a much more theatrical look to it’s visuals rather than one that looks totally real and the same is true with it’s creature design. For me, there are some scenes here that put me right in the mind of classic science fiction paperback book covers and for the overall pulpy feel of the film, I don’t think it hurts it in the slightest.
As mentioned above, Vin Diesel returns to the part of Richard Riddick and it’s pretty obvious to me by his work on screen just how special this character is to him. In particular watching Diesel during the first third of this is especially fun as he gets introspective about what led him to this situation and as he develops his own relationship with a dog-like creature native to this world. For the most part, the mercenaries are all run-of-the-mill characters, but the actors playing them look like they’re having quite a bit of fun and there are a few standouts. Jordi Molla and Dave Bautista play Santana and Diaz respectively from the first group of mercenaries Santana is the leader of the group and Molla plays it with the right amount of smarm. Bautista’s Diaz, is the heavy duty enforcer who actually gets a lot of the good lines and has more clarity about their situation than the other members of his group do. Matt Nable and Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff play Johns and Dahl from the other group of mercenaries. I’m a fan of Sackhoff’s and just really enjoyed seeing her here, but between the two Nable is the real standout. His character actually has a personal reason for pursuing Riddick and yet the way it’s written and the way Nable plays it, it’s not just one note and the character, at least to me has more to exist for than just revenge.
I had a terrific time with Riddick. It certainly made up for the disappointment that I had in the prior film and it’s “back-to-basics” approach was quite appealing and certainly leaves the character in a better place than where he was at the end of the prior movie. I love the film’s look, it’s relaxed pace and it’s melding of sci-fi and western genres. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Richard Riddick, but only as long as David Twohy and Vin Diesel are there to guide the character.